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Success is about more than good grades

By Jill Girgulis, March 28 2017 — 

What does “A” mean to you? When you see it, do you think of things like grades, exams and stress? I know I do. Why is it that an innocuous little symbol has become so significant? The mere mention of it has the power to conjure intense images of stressed students on caffeine highs, writing dozens of lab reports and enduring endless literature searches.

It’s even gotten to the point where receiving a good grade is more of a relief than a cause for celebration. When you score about the same or higher than you expected on a test, there’s this moment of “awesome!” followed closely by “okay, now I can move on to the next thing. I don’t have to worry about that anymore.” Rarely do we take the time — or even have the time — to bask in our accomplishments.

Whether they motivate you to do your best or are the bane of your existence, we all care about grades. Grades are important to us by virtue of us being students, and this is exacerbated by the fact that we’re in an institution that charges us no small amount of money in return for an education. While I’m sure any university student would love to be handed a transcript filled with As, unfortunately that’s not how it works.

Many of us undoubtedly came to university with the belief that if we worked just a little bit harder, we would be able to get the same grades as we did in high school. I know I’m not the first person to say this, but university is very different from high school. At times, it seems like everyone says it — teachers, parents, friends, guidance counsellors. However, what they don’t tell us is that there’s a reason for this, and it’s not as simple as “the classes are harder.”

It’s taken me nearly three years to even begin to realize this, but the grades we get in university don’t define us. Despite professors’ best efforts, exams and assignments will never be able to do a perfect job of assessing the true extent of a student’s knowledge and skill set. It’s just not possible. With that in mind, it’s become necessary for us to find other ways to confirm that we actually do understand the material being taught to us.

A few months ago, an upper-year student gave me some excellent advice about this. “Study the things you are interested in the most because that’s what will come up later in your career depending which path you choose,” she said.

What she says is true. A student can have a wonderful and valuable university experience without tasting what it’s like to be at the top of the class or anywhere near it. Personally, I’m going to finish this semester with the lowest grades of my entire university career. Maybe it’s because I switched into a new program. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t prepared for the expectations. Maybe it’s because it really is just harder this semester.

Or maybe it’s because I’m finally enjoying myself in school and learning what I want to learn.

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